LOS ANGELES (AP) — A cache of homemade fireworks exploded as it was being destroyed by a bomb squad, flipping and damaging cars, smashing windows in homes and injuring 17 people including police officers, authorities said.
It could take days to determine why the material exploded inside an iron containment vessel on a tractor-trailer Wednesday night, tearing the rig apart in what was supposed to be a safe operation to handle explosives that were too unstable to remove from a South Los Angeles neighborhood where tons of illegal fireworks were discovered.
“Clearly, protocols were followed and pursued. But something happened in that containment vessel that should not have happened and we don’t know why,” Police Chief Michel Moore said. “But we intend to find out why.”
He described them as 40 home-made devices the size of Coca-Cola cans with simple fuses and 200 smaller but similar devices.
The material was taken to a “total containment vehicle,” Moore said. The multi-ton semi-tractor trailer rig has a spherical iron chamber that is designed to safely detonate explosives.
Moore said less than 10 pounds of material was placed in the chamber, far less than its safety rating.
“This vessel should have been able to dispose of that material,” he said but instead there was a “total, catastrophic failure of that containment vehicle."
As a safety measure, police had knocked on doors before the blast to evacuate homes on both sides of the street where the truck was parked. But firefighters later found people in some of the homes, Terrazas said.
Despite shattered windows, Terrazas said the explosion seemed to have caused mainly superficial damage to homes and gas and water lines were intact.
Moore said a response team consisting of members from around the country would be arriving in town to examine the site and walk through it for an investigation that could take several days. The chief also said the blast may have thrown debris and possibly dangerous material some distance.
People who spot something suspicious in their yards shouldn't touch it but should call police, he said.